Three business leaders, from three very different sectors, came together with one key thing in common—during the COVID-19 pandemic, they were tasked with helping their organisations accelerate digital transformation. At Workday Elevate Digital Experience 2021 in the UK, Michael Cole, chief technology officer of the European Tour and Ryder Cup Europe, Lucy Becque, chief people officer of Coventry Building Society, and Peter Keery, finance transformation director of Veolia UK, discussed their digital journeys and what lies ahead.
Today’s appetite to accelerate digital should come as no surprise, given the plethora of benefits it brings. A recent study from IDC showed that digital-first organisations are twice as profitable and deliver eight times the revenue of their non-digital peers in the industry. Those are compelling numbers. But, while COVID-19 has been a catalyst for change, the shift to digital has not happened overnight. The past decade has seen organisations move at varying speeds to embrace digital, with some plotting a modest path to transformation.
Technology and sport are becoming increasingly intertwined, so it’s no surprise to see an elite sporting organisation leading from the front. Michael Cole of the European Tour and Ryder Cup Europe understands the importance of digital in making sure the European tour has the ability to deal with an increasingly complex business model and a demanding calendar.
“Our regular schedule is played across 44 tournaments in 31 countries. In fact, our closed season is just three days. This makes golf, in my view, one of the most operationally demanding and complex sports in the industry. Therefore, the business processes to support these incredible operations and complexity are immense,” said Cole. “Technology and digital transformation are needed to truly automate and simplify these processes and drive change. In the last few years, the European Tour has really stepped up and accelerated its digital transformation, and in fact, we’re now widely seen as being a leading advocate in the adoption of technology in sport.”
Veolia UK may be more focused on resource management and ecological transformation than elite sport, but the organisation’s acquisition strategy, growth, and increasingly disparate IT estate mean that handling complexity is also a major priority.
“Veolia itself is a really complex organisation,” said Peter Keery, finance transformation director of Veolia UK. “We’ve grown really quickly in the UK, and a key challenge for us has been ensuring that we bring all those different businesses together and offer a consistent customer and employee experience wherever possible. Many of our day-to-day activities are quite manual in their nature and held together at times by what really felt like sheer hard work and sticky tape, but our digital acceleration programme is making significant inroads.”
Coventry Building Society’s Lucy Becque approaches digital acceleration from two distinct perspectives: the customer’s and the employee’s. For both, digital is completely changing the game.
“On the customer side, if I look at what’s underpinned the society’s success, it’s been very much the human interactions, the service that’s delivered by our people to our members. But the digital experience has not been anywhere near as strong. So the challenge for us is, How do you provide more choices without losing what made you brilliant in the past?” Becque said.
Pre-pandemic, Coventry Building Society had approximately a few hundred people on any given day working from home. Now, it’s a couple of thousand.
As Becque said, “We have seen huge digital transformation in the people space. We went live with Workday in September 2020, so we’ve gone through an enormous amount of change to make sure that our employees are able to operate as effectively as possible.”
“I think sometimes in the past we’ve forgotten to value some of those great human interactions we have. How do we create time within the member transactions to also have human connection and have some collective downtime?”Lucy Becque Chief People Officer Coventry Building Society
Figures from the Office for National Statistics say 35.9% of the UK workforce did some form of remote working in 2020. But how seamless was that transition, and what does it mean for the broader business? Like many organisations, the European Tour, Coventry Building Society, and Veolia UK were forced to pivot virtually overnight, moving many office-based workers to working from home.
“We’re quite a risk-averse organisation,” Becque explained, “so we would have focused an awful lot on making sure that anything we did, particularly in the digital space, was perfect. We would have tested it multiple times, governed it, and really been very cautious before we launched anything.”
But, Becque explained, “In the first lockdown, we had more than 1,000 mortgage payment holiday requests a day. The only solution that could scale quickly enough to handle those extraordinary volumes had to be a digital one. So, we had to trust people to get on with it. They had to trust me. I had to trust them. You still had to have appropriate levels of governance, but we had to rely on bringing things in and then accepting that they wouldn’t be perfect, but would evolve.”
For many organisations, the need to get the job done has required new ways of working and innovating. European Tour’s Cole said the organisation seized the moment during the lockdown and used it as an opportunity to truly transform the way it operates and scales.
“Nobody wished for COVID, but it has created a platform of opportunity and accelerated innovation towards this vision. We had the need to deliver a biosecure technology bubble, building upon our accreditation systems to create a COVID-defence system that arguably is now one of the best in the industry. In the face of real adversity, we’ve actually improved our cash position. We’ve enhanced our financial stability. We’ve advanced our technology. And importantly, we’ve created incredible playing opportunities for our members across the many, many countries in which we operate,” Cole said.
“Our return to work won’t actually feel like a return to the office at all, but a new way of working—smarter, more collaboratively, and certainly more flexibly.”Michael Cole Chief Technology Officer European Tour and Ryder Cup Europe
As business life slowly starts to return to some form of normal, how will employers think about not just where they allow employees to work, but how they engage with their workforce? The pandemic has flipped the concept of “business as usual” on its head, allowing organisations to reinvent traditional ways of operating. Digital technology is at the heart of this transformation, but business leaders also have a job to do in embracing this culture and ensuring employees can thrive in a world that, for some, no longer entirely revolves around the collective office.
European Tour’s Cole understands the importance of getting culture right if businesses are going to excel. “Our return to work won’t actually feel like a return to the office at all, but a new way of working—smarter, more collaboratively, and certainly more flexibly,” he said.
Breaking down the barriers to remote working has been key to Veolia UK’s success during the lockdown, and that required a shift in mindset from the company and its leadership.
“The pandemic, in a way, has advanced a cultural change in the organisation towards remote working. Previously, that kind of operation would have been viewed by a lot of managers with a certain amount of scepticism or suspicion. And I think, through the course of the year, those attitudes have virtually disappeared across the organisation,” said Veolia UK’s Keery.
“Moving forward, we expect there to be a lot more flexibility leading to a change in the way we use our office space,” he continued. “In terms of engagement with our employees, I think we’ve communicated with a much greater frequency rather than just kind of taking for granted you’re bumping into people around the office.”
While remote working will be an important part of the future digital business, how do business leaders strike a balance between flexible working and ensuring a strong culture of human collaboration and engagement? Coventry Building Society’s Lucy Becque believes human interaction remains a critical element both for the organisation and its workforce.
“I think sometimes in the past we’ve forgotten to value some of those great human interactions we have. How do we create time within the member transactions to also have human connection and have some collective downtime? For leaders, it’s about the importance of wider conversations. Talking to employees isn’t just a business check-in. It’s also a wellness check-in. That’s going to be critical as we come out of the pandemic,” Becque said.
Watch the Workday Elevate session again here to learn more about digital acceleration.